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Connellsville officials back efforts to make community center viable

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By Rachel Basinger
Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 7:34 p.m.

Connellsville City Councilman Gregory Ritch told community center advisory board members on Thursday that he, as well as Mayor Charles Matthews and the rest of council, are all on board with seeing the center viable once again.

“The city is committed to this community center,” Ritch said. “We will work to ensure the center is a gathering place for all residents, so we can enhance their quality of life.”

Ritch also stressed that no Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition programs or any other programs of that type would be incorporated into the community center.

“I just want to eliminate that rumor right now,” he said. “There are no plans, discussions or intent by anyone on city council to make that happen.”

As far as what kind of control the advisory board has or what decisions they are allowed or not allowed to make, Ritch said, the sky is the limit.

“The city is not here to interfere with any of the goals, thoughts or the planning of activities by this board,” he said. “You're only limited to your own imagination.”

Ritch also introduced his strategic plan for the community center in the coming year, which includes bringing in at least one new tenant a month.

“If we have 12 out of 33 rooms rented by the end of the year, that's better than where we're at now,” he said.

While he acknowledged the Porter Theater is the crown jewel of the center, it's the gymnasium that's making the most money at this point, Ritch said.

Councilman Tom Karpiak said the gymnasium makes money because no one has to have a controlling interest in it to use it, adding that might be the way to go for the theater.

“We need to make money,” he said. “It's the only way this place is going to stay in existence. We have to utilize what we have here.”

Karpiak said they have “the HObos (HObo Model Railroad Club), the theater, the gym, and we'll get the pool going again. I'm looking at this as one big opportunity. All the bricks are here to get it all done.”

Ritch added that there is a strong desire to make this work.

“It's a team effort, and it takes everybody pulling in the same direction,” he said.

Advisory board member Patty Firestone is looking into whether one of the big businesses in town would be willing to build a concession stand in the center, which could be used when people come to the theater or the gymnasium or for any other event.

“This could give people a reason to rent out a room for a baby shower or a wedding shower,” she said. “It's just another way that we might be able to generate some money.”

Ritch noted that at some point the city wants to back out of the supervisory position of the center.

“We are looking for a property manager, an advisory board or some other entity to control the operations of the center,” he said.

Rachel Basinger is a freelance writer.

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